Thursday 28 February 2008

Master Chef Final

Cowie and I are both very excited about the final of Master Chef tonight. James has got to win, but we are both big fans of Emily who we are predicting will create something absolutely bonkers tonight. She's certainly got a lot of friends. My colleague is in love with her!

Here's what Cowie would cook if she was in the final:

Cerviche of trout.

Anjou of pigeon, with an velvet jus, Jerusalem artichokes and greens

A trio of chocolate puddings... a mini chocolate and hazelnut soufflé, mini chocolate fondant, mini white chocolate moose with raspberries.. It would somehow all marry together and be really light!

Maybe a twill bicie on top!


And here's my menu:

Skate cheefs, sous vide with black pudding foam. Served with a yuzu tuile

Venison fillet with 80% butter mashed potato

Tuna with sugar cane rammed through it Cuban style

Candy floss with rose petals


It's got me all excited. Looking forward to the showdown tonight and very disappointed that it will all be over so soon.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Chocolate Pencils

Amazing choclate pencils from Off the Meat Hook:

"I've been drooling over this photo of chocolate pencils from Le Chocolat de H, an arty, high-concept, high-end chocolatier in Tokyo.

They wanted to emphasize the shavings- which in a pencil constitute waste- as a positive product instead of a waste product, so they've included a handy dandy sharpener so you can shave your pencils on top of a dessert. Brilliant and interactive!

They don't appear to be for sale online yet, so unless you are reading this post from Roppongi you may have a hard time getting your hands on a set."

Sunday 24 February 2008

Super Hot Stuff

Having read Jay Rayner's review of Hot Stuff in the Observer a few weeks ago I seized the first opportunity that presented itself and dragged a whole bunch of friends down to deepest darkest Vauxhal for what turned out to be the best curry I've ever had.

A very diverse group of us are going skiing next week so it seemed like a good idea to have a pre skiing get together so we all make friends and get excited about zooming around on some snow. We tried to keep the 1850 and 1650 chat to a minumum given that South Lamberth isn't exactly Fulham. Thank God!

On my way through Vauxhall to Hot Stuff I came across some really cool street art dangling from the top of a bridge. Really cool and a bit surreal.

The advanced party met at a very straightforward pub called the Gladstone which I was hoping was going to be situated opposite the Disraeli or the Queen Vic. No such luck. It was in fact directly opposite an enormous Sainsbury. Cowie had a lot of trouble finding us and landed up being picked up by a cabby from the Battersea Dog Home and delivered for free because he was fearful for her safety. Pearls and a trouser suit tend to stand out in the wasteland of Vauxhal.

We sloped off down the cul de sac to Hot Stuff for our 9pm reservation and fuelled up on beer and wine from the off licence next door. The restaurant is tiny. It probably seats about 25 people at a squeeze. The walls are covered in murals and a range of reviews that veer from the brilliant to the dazzling. This place has a long history of cooking great curry.

Our waiter was hillarious and very helpful. He gave us all menus and then said that he'd prefer it if we didn't order from them. In fact he asked for them back and asked if we were happy for him to just serve us the food that his kitchen thought would suit us best! Who were we to argue!

A couple of metres of naan bread appeared which he balanaced very cleverly on top of our beer bottles. It was scorching hot and incredibly good. But not as brilliant as the starters that then appeared. Spicy paneer and chilli chicken were both delicious. As was the bowlful of enormous prawns. By this point we were already feeling quite full.

After a few minutes of banter from our waiter and a few trips to the very dodgy loo our main courses arrived relentlessly. A collection of dishes that I can't even begin to describe or remember. The only one that I can clearly recall was a corriander lamb curry which I think may have been a dopiazza. It was gorgeous. And has since become my curry of choice. So long Rogan Josh. It's been fun. But a tastier number has outdone you!

There was no fish on the menu. You have to visit them after Wednesday in the week for that treat. I simply can't wait to go back and give it another go. It's a brilliant find in a place that you'd never go. I've raved about it to everyone I've seen in the last week. It's the kind of place that I'd like to lift up and plonk down on the end of Chivalry Road and then not tell anyone about!

Ah, but it's so good!

When I heard Miles was coming to London I immediately started thinking of a suitable restaurant. It needed to be somewhere in the West End. Somewhere with British food, a lively atmosphere and a good atmosphere. Having loved Wild Honey it seemed a natural choice to opt for Arbutus.

Cowie checked the menu and predicted that I would chose scallops, pork belly and then the custard tart! This was disastrous because it was exactly what I wanted, but I couldn't possibly just fall into line! So I chose differently. And I'm glad I did!

My porchetta with apple sauce and cress wasn't what I was expecting; very thin slices of roast pork with a warm apple sauce and peppery leaves. Miles had some poached salmon that had been caressed onto his plate and very delicately cooked. It was as soft and moist as it was rich and pink. A stunning work of art on the plate.

My rabbit was moist, gamey, soft and very interesting. It came with a confit of rabbit shoulder casoulet with a truffle mashed potato topping. Quite a mouthful to type let alone eat. It was stunning. A rich, warming friend for my rabbit. The fact that I forgot about it until I finished my rabbit just made it taste even better!

Miles has a sensational looking shin of veal. The sauce shimmered and blinked like a celebrity at the Oscars. It was deep, comforting and beautifully presented.

Miles finished with a rhibarb jelly and I rather greedily couldn't resist the chocolate soup which was, as you might expect, pretty rich! The rhibarb on the other hand was light and sparkling with flavour.

We loved the atmosphere, which had a very lively vibe. Loads of 20 and 30 somethings having fun after work. Prices aren't too horific and the wine list is both fun and accessible given their caraffe policy. I'm looking forward to finding another excuse to come here!

Rhubarb Souffle

This month's "In the Bag" competition over on A Slice of Cherry Pie asks entrants to incorporate forced rhubarb, an orange and sugar into a recipe. After last month's lamb and pear tagine we decided to create a sweet recipe rather than savoury.

Cowie has been making some very good souffles recently, so we decided to create a rhubarb and orange souffle. I bought some nice rhubarb from Waitrose and chopped it up before simmering it. The pink, fibrous stemmed rhubarb crunched like celery as we prepared it.

We simmered some rhubarb with some sugar until it became thick and syrupy.

We mixed some eggs yolks with sugar, orange zest and stem ginger.

And whisked up some eggs whites with some sugar.

Before gently folding them together.

Meanwhile we buttered and dusted some ramekins with icing sugar.

And then spooned the mixture in.

We cooked them in a pre heated oven for 12 minutes, making sure that the tops didn't burn.

They emerged from the oven with beautiful golden tops and a wonderfully sharp smell of rhubarb. Best of all though, their tops didn't collapse and they stayed bouyant and perky!

And they tasted even better. The rhubarb was the star of the show with the orange peel and stem ginger coming in to balance out the sharpness with some warmth and zing.

Well done Cowie for being so creative on a weeknight. After a long day of work it was so much fun to create something so light, tasty and exotic. And it was fun taking the photos too.

Tuesday 19 February 2008

Why do celebrity chefs pose like this?

What is it about celebrity chefs that makes them pose with their arms crossed on the front cover of their books? I saw these books by James Martin and Wozzer side by side in Waitrose and wondered whether it was a trait that other chefs had too. You can see below that Jamie has also dabbled with the arms crossed technique. But not in anyway near the way that Wozzer and James Martin do.

If you have a look at Jamie's other front covers a patern emerges. The arms crossed thing is a bit of a red herring. In all of his front covers he looks relaxed. Informal. Making cooking look like a piece of piss. He doesn't need to do the whole arms crossed thing to look important or commanding.

Maybe you could say that Jamie's got his arms crossed to add a bit of gravitas to his "Cook" book. And in the Jamie at Home book it's a fairly relaxed bit of arm crossing afterall.

Gordon's front covers are interesting too. But a bit harder to decypher. It seems that he's gone from being a bit shy about his face by covering up his chin and not looking to camera to a place where he is now very happy to act as a model - almost like Tom Cruise in Cocktail. See what you think...

During the course of Gordon's rise to fame loads of girls have fallen head over heals with Gordon for his gruff, assertive masculinity. His contoured face has become iconic and he's stopped hiding it away.

Hugh's front covers are the most consistent of all. Very Hugh. You get a picture of Hugh eating or holding whatever sums up his latest book. Simple. So Wittingstall.

It all goes to show that celebrity chefs are major brands these days. The same rules of branding apply to them as they would to any of the brands I work on. The look and feel is crucial and consistency of image is really imporant too.

I hope my amateur interest in body language hasn't bored anyone too much!

Sunday 17 February 2008

Salmon Teryaki

Inspired by our delicious salmon teryaki at Roka and remembering my first encounter with dark, salty, sweet, soft salmon at Sosumi in Cape Town, I was eager to create the perfect version of it.

The beauty of it is that it is so soft, almost raw. Bright pink yet salty and deep with flesh that falls apart at the seams. Just like it should. You touch it with a chopstick and it yields.

I put my Heston hat on and decided to give the salmon a good burst of marinating. A combination of teryaki sauce, shallot, galang galang, chile, coriander, mirin and a drop of sesame oil worked its way into the firm fillets for about 3 hours before I popped them in their own little Baco sous vide bags.

When we've tried the boil in the bag method before we've had great results in terms of taste but have tended to slightly over do the cooking. To avoid this we used a far bigger pan and used the lowest flame. To keep the temperature down even more we added a handful of ice cubes to the warm/hot water so that it wouldn't even think of overcooking whilst we had a bath.

I got a bit carried away with the whole water bath thing and went to check on my salmon with a towel wrapped around me. For a bit of a laugh I gave Cowie a shock by bringing one of the salmon parcels up to the bath with me and dropped it in the bath! Cowie was shocked! And even more so when I got my camera out!

But it makes an interesting point. The bath was at the ideal temperature to sous vide my salmon. It was probably at a better temperature than the pan on the stove!

When the flesh went from being firm to yielding a little when I poked it we whipped it out of the pan and opened up the pouches and drained them both into a bowl. The flesh was perfectly rare and they were deeply coloured and still, thankfully, in tact.

I took the fillets out of their juice and seared them skin side down on a griddle so the skin crisped up. There are few flavours I love more than crispy fish skin. Delicious.

In the meantime Cowie created a masterful stir fry featuring a variety of oriental mushrooms, seared pepper, sweetcorn and other oriental nibbles.

And it was stunning. Slow cooking, marinating and sous vide are the way forward. Especially when you get a bit of searing in there as well.

For our next trick we'll be cooking venison on our car engine!

Creme de la Crepe, Borough Market

Anna's entry into Cowie's pancake competition was inspired, or more accurately stolen from Creme de la Crepe's menu. Anna confessed under torture, but we were kind and allowed her to compete in the contest - not disimmilar to the Dwain Chambers fiasco recently.

Anna insisted we try out the pancakes at Creme de la Crepe which can now be found in the alleyway from Borough Market that leads up to the main part of London Bridge station.

Anna was at school with Katie who is Nick's girlfriend. Nick is Mr Crepe. Cowie and I had a good potter around Borough Market to work up an apetite for our pancakes, picking up some salmon for supper and some delicious apples to turn into juice to refresh us after squash. When eventually we'd exhausted all the stalls and Cowie had accidentally stollen some ham that she thought was a free taster but was actually someone's prized purchase, we joined the snaking queue for our crepe.

Unfortunately Nick had run out of ham and bacon which ruled out the croque monseir and the piggy went to market options so I went for "The Italian Job" which features sun dried tomatoes, lashings of pesto, roquette and goats cheese. Just like Anna made for our pancake party. Cowie was less adventurous and went for lemon and sugar which was really good too.

We had a good chat with Nick and Katie who are lovely and tried not to distract them too much from their feverish pancake making. The crepes were beautifully cooked and it's great fun to watch them being made. The batter is pumped out from two taps and they then use a little wooden spreader to coat the hot plate. It doesn't take long before you're handed a wonderfully oragamied crepe oozing with goodies.

Nick and Katie are hoping to set up a pitch at Covent Garden and will cater for any event. What better way to end up a party than to have a crepe man. They've got a great website and sell goodies such as hoodies and t-shirts.

Saturday 16 February 2008

Valentine's Day Cookery

Cowie and I are equally obsessed with food. I guess it's a shared passion. We land up going on holidays based around an oyster festival, a place having a great reputation for langoustines, an awesome market. I doubt we'd go on holiday to a place that didn't have good food, or the very least an interesting culinary adventure to be had.

Valentine's Day is probably the busiest night of the year for the restaurant industry. I landed up having a chat with the head waiter at the Galvin in the afternoon over a cup of coffee and a chat about his cognacs - they had been fully booked for 5 months and had to completely transform the restaurant layout so that it could accommodate a school classroom style arrangement of tables for 2. They keep their menu very staightforward and offer amuse bouches and little petit fours and going away presents for the ladies. All lovely touches. Cowie and I tend to shun the cliched visit to an intimate restaurant for Valentine's day. Far better to avoid the en masse romance and cook something intimate and romantic at home.

So we went to Roka on the 13th which was amazing, and then pottered back to Cowie's to cook some cod and have some fun with some souffles for Valentine's Day.

I took charge of the cod, wrapping it in top quality bacon and seasoning it generously with Cowie's speciality salt and pepper. A splash of flat champagne from last week and 2 sprigs of bright red tomatoes from M&S finished it off before it went into a medium oven to work its magic.

In the meantime I did what I always land up doing with peppers. I cut them in half and blackened them on in the gas flame until they blistered and became stunningly smokey.

Cowie suggested a cheeky little tomato sauce might not be such a bad idea - so I grabbed the left over bruchetta spread that Blades and Heather brought to our pancake party, added some shallots and tinned tomatoes and simmed it down to a rich deep tomato sauce to accompany the cod. Cowie popped in a few prawns, I removed the beautifully cooked cod from the oven and then we swooned over our creation. Gorgeous.

Cowie took charge of dessert. She delved into our souffle book and rustled up what should have been a mango number but landed up tasting delicious but quite plain. They rose perfectly and held their shape well. There's something really nerve racking about the 10 mintutes that souffles take to transform in the oven. Are they going to rise? Are they going to flop? Have I remembered to butter and sugar the ramekins? Should I check them? Will they collapse once they are taken out of the oven?

You can tell from the pictures that Cowie did a great job. We're giving them another go tonight, so stay tuned. I think it's going to be apricots and honey this time.

Friday 15 February 2008

Poor old Ainsley

Pre Valentine's Day Roka Extravaganza

I had promised to take Cowie to Tsunami in Clapham for our pre-Valentine's day meal. But I never booked it. Instead I was really sneaky and booked us into Roka which we had wanted to go to for ages.

We've got a history of trying to surprise each other but we normally either get too excited and spill the beans too early or the we see through each other and guess! But not this time. I managed to get Cowie hook line and sinker.

We met on Charlotte Street and went for a casual drink in a pub next to Finos and guzzled down some wine that meant we saved a few quid rather than paying through the nose in "Tsunami/Roka". The more time passed the more itchy Cowie's feet became until it was pretty obvious we couldn't make it to Clapham in time for our booking at Tsunami.

I smiled at Cowie and explained my surprise, but before I could say where we were going instead she had guess it! That's the closest I've got to surprising her properly!

We pottered up to Roka with a very bouncy spring in our steps: partly to do with the booze, a bit to do with the excitement of the surprise and also because we had been dying to go to Roka ever since we heard of it.

You can always tell it's going to be a good meal when we ask to move seats and are plonked in the best spot. This time we were moved from the goldfish bowl seats by the window to prime real estate at the central bar overlooking the chefs doing their BBQing. It's a great site to see such amazing chefs cooking live in front of you. It must be a great way of getting people to buy extra things just because they see them being cooked! Flames. Action. Food porn!

After gasping at the price of the set menu we soon realised that we would be better off going off piste and constructing our own meal. Who needs vegetarian dishes when these guys are so good at fish and meat.

We kicked off with some yellow fin tuna tataki which was light, fresh, zingy and beautfiully textured. The only question mark we had next to it was the way it tasted very strongly of the kind of bad pre-ground pepper you got at school.

Then came some well salted edamame and otoro tuna sashimi which was delicious. By far the best I've ever had. I love the feel of it as it almost disolves in your mouth. Who needs teeth when you've got otoro!

Cowie's miso soup with scallops was a great success too. Warming, delicately flavoured and very subtle. It's a great broth that is as full of unami as it is lacking in colour. Pale and unasumming. But very pleasant indeed.

Things got really exciting when our grilled quail with a tart plum compote arrived. The meat was beautifully charred and almost raw. There's nothing quite like a bit of medium rare poultry to divide opinion. In this instance it was sensational. But I know a lot of people would have complained. The plum lifted the sweetness of the quail and cut through the oily skin leaving your mouth craving more. What a shame quails are so small!

If we thought our quail was good, the salmon teryaki took us up to another level. It was only £10 but was the best thing we ate. The salmon flesh was almost raw and fell apart at the very sight of a chopstick. The teryaki sauce was rich, dark and deep. The skin was crispy and a shinning example to the entire world about how to cook fish skin. There are few finer tastes than properly cooked fish skin. Gorgeous.

Beef and asparagus skewers were very vanilla. Perfectly fine but Wags do them just as well for less. And yuzu soy tuna was a bit dry but I enjoyed my first experience of yuzu. Kind of like tangerine but a lot more expensive!

We boycotted the wine and instead had green tea which meant that we spent well under £100 and left feeling perfectly full, deleriously happy and super keen to come back.

Wednesday 6 February 2008

Pancake Competition Results

Pancake Day, AKA Shrove Tuesday is one of the most exciting days in the foodie calendar. It's the day when you are encouraged to gorge on all the good stuff before you fast for Lent. Given that I'm not religious and am not planning to give anything more significant than stamp collecting up for Lent, Pancake Day is essentially a wild card to tuck into whatever you want with impunity! Hahahah!

Cowie organised a brilliant event. About a month ago we invited some close friends to come round for a pancake party
. At first it started out as being a simple affair with Cowie planning to cook an industrial amount of batter and do something simple with lemons and sugar. But this didn't last long. Instead we set up a competition whereby each couple had to supply a different filling with the most innovative filling winning the kudos of being the Paunch's 20008 Pancake Champion.

Being a competitive bunch of surveryors, lawyers, recruitment consultants, insurance brokes, university lecturers and ad men we took up the challenge and all brought our attempts at glory!

Anna and Edwin did a great job with their "Italian Job". A tasty combination of pesto, sundried tomatoes from Sainsbury's and supplemented by some San Lorenzo classics and finished off with some mozerellla was delicious. It was inspired by Anna's friend who has a pancake stall in Borough Market. Well done Anna and Edwin. Good depth of flavour and good originality.

Well done the Emissons. Top work.

Cowie and I supplied a delicious treat of smoked salmon with dill and creme fraiche. Simple. But utterly gorgeous. Very luxururious indeed. And great colours too.

It felt quite Russian. All we needed was some chilled vodka and some fur coats! Although it wasn't voted as being the best filling, I was still pretty proud as it was colourful and full of flavour.

Blades and Heather came to the party with goat's cheese and honey roasted ham. A great, simple combination that tasted gorgeous. Salty and full of creamy meatiness. And with a smear of bruchetta topping it was even better!

The beauty was that we could mix and match the various cheeses and cured meats that everyone had brought along. The demand for the large meat platter was pretty agressive, resulting in a Mexican stand off for the salmon, meat platter and Victoria's delicious and award winning wild mushroom and bacon sludge. It might not look that amazing, but it was sublime. Especially when you throw some goat's cheese and rocket in there as well!

Well done Victoria. Good stuff.

In return, we also had a prociutto, bufallo mozerella and balsamic tomato salad which was stunning. Sweet. Salty. Sharp. Mmmm.

Jack and Keira brought along some lovely Ementhal and some plastic ham which they intended to be made into an alpine racklette style pancake. Unfortunately, we didn't have the kit to make the most of it. But to be honest you can't go wrong with ham and cheese pancakes anyway!

Now for the sweet pancakes! In brief:

The San Lorenzo "Nutella" spread was amazing. So naughty and o so tasty!

Jack and Keira had an absolute blinder. Sultanas with cinamon and ice cream was immense and rightly picked up the sweet pancake of the year award! Well bowled!

Ian and Emma covered off the classic base with lemon and sugar which you simply can't go wrong with. Sharp and sweet. Nice.

As a finale I had bought some passion fruit and creme fraiche which brought back amazing memories of eating fresh chapatis in Zanzibar. That tropical clarity of taste. Yummy! Sadly this one was wolfed down so fast we didn't get a picture!

Well done everyone and especially to Cowie for hosting a brilliant event. Particular congratulations go to Jack and Keira for their sultana, cinamon and ice cream dessert and to Victoria and Alex for their delicious savoury bacon and mushroom extravaganza. I can't wait for the next Shrove Tuesday. Pancake Day rocks!

Jack's clearly praying that the white chocolate hasn't run out... and below, 2 very talented cyclists prepare to ride their tandem back to Pimlico!


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